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HomeA&EMovies
Published: 4/2/2004

Movie review: Home on the Range ****

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

It has been a long time since I enjoyed an animated film from start to finish. Brother Bear was beautiful but self-important. Teacher's Pet was irreverent but crude.

Home on the Range is just plain fun.

Though it's not exactly Stagecoach or High Noon, Home on the Range echoes plenty of the elements of traditional westerns. There are good guys (ranchers) and bad guys (cattle rustlers), a sleepy cow town and an outlaw hideout, a sheriff and his trusty steed.

There are also four bounty hunters. One is Rico, who is known far and wide for being able to get his man. The other three are Maggie, Grace, and Mrs. Caloway. They are cows.

Yes, cows.

Rico goes after bad guys for the fun of it. The cows have even more incentive; they need to round up some cash to save their home from foreclosure.

OK, I'll grant you that an animated feature about talking cows might seem to be the sort of movie that older brothers get conned into taking their younger siblings. But siblings, parents, and even grandparents need not fear: Home on the Range has a lot to recommend it.

Though it's a blend of computer and hand-drawn techniques, the movie has an old-fashioned feel to it that is both interesting and restful. There's always something to look at, but it isn't so lush or artsy that it takes attention away from the story.

The cast of performers assembled to provide voices for the animated characters is stellar. Want proof? One of the cows, Mrs. Caloway, has the voice of Judi Dench. That's Dame Judi Dench. Remember her? She got an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love.

Also, the film, written and directed by Will Finn and John Sanford, hums along at a brisk pace, accompanied by the music of Alan Menken and sung by performers such as k.d. lang, Bonnie Raitt, and Tim McGraw. The songs aren't as memorable as Menken's "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, and "Colors of the Wind" from Pocohantas, but they're pleasant, often toe-tapping, and a cheerful addition to the entire package that is Home on the Range.

The range is where Mrs. Caloway lives, on a dairy farm run by Pearl (Carol Cook). Others on the farm include the young, gentle New Age cow Grace (Jennifer Tilly), pigs Ollie (Charlie Dell) and Mollie (Edie McClurg) and their piglets; Jeb (Joe Flaherty) the crabby goat, and Audrey the hen (Estelle Harris). Everyone gets along, and the farm would seem to live up to its name, Patch of Heaven, until two events occur.

The first is the arrival of Maggie, a cow with a smart mouth and an attitude to match, which is no surprise, since her voice and personality (bovine-ality?) come from Roseanne Barr. Though Maggie has the rest of the farm animals in awe of her "glamour" - she is, after all, a "show cow" whose main purpose in life is winning prizes at the county fair - Mrs. Caloway is not amused. She considers the newcomer worse than useless, for Maggie is keeping the other animals from their farm duties.

The second event is the arrival of the sheriff (Richard Riehle), who brings Pearl a foreclosure notice. She has three days to come up with $750, or Patch of Heaven will be auctioned. Pearl doesn't have that kind of money, and things look grim. But Maggie came to the farm when her previous owner lost his ranch to foreclosure, and she's not about to let it happen again. When she learns that there's a bounty on cattle rustler Alameda Slim (Randy Quaid), she sees a route to financial freedom. Grace is willing to try anything, so she joins in. Mrs. Caloway sees no hope for the plan, but she is the top dog - er, cow - on the farm and no usurper is going to take her place.

The cows aren't the only ones after Slim. Rico is on his trail, riding the sheriff's horse, Buck (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), whose daydreams of glory are larger even than Maggie's ego.

Yes, it all sounds ridiculous, but it's all fun, often times, laugh-out-loud fun. And as for that PG rating, it's for brief rude humor which is so mild that by today's standards, it's nonexistent.

Home on the Range is a true family film.

Enjoy.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at ncherry@theblade.com or 419-724-6130.



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